She stood there, the young lady wearing the ridiculously oversized T-shirt and jeans, clutching a Japanese doll, 2 Japanese floral umbrellas, and some Haniwa handicrafts which she had managed to buy from the street side shops flanking the market area of Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Sakai, Japan. She looked hilarious enough for me to choke on my mid-morning coffee. To top it, she was about to burst into tears. My purple glasses told me that she was 26, Indian, married to a sailor, on a trip to this port of Japan for just 3 days for which she had researched intensely in advance for 3 weeks! She actually believed she could sample a specimen of Japanese culture in just that time.
The prankster in me had taken over from the moment she set foot on shore. I made sure it was Sunday. It was very important that all banks and money exchange counters be closed. She set out on her solo trip with 10,000 yens and a map of Sakai in her pocket and with stars in her eyes. It was easy to blow off most of her money as cab fare and then train fare and then bus fare till she finally reached the heart of Takashimaya. She made it easier for me from there by pouncing on any trash in the pavement shops believing with heart and soul that she is buying a worthwhile souvenir for her wall unit back home or a rare gift for her best friend’s neighbour. As expected, in no time she was left penniless, stranded, and with no way to communicate.
Yeah, that was the fun of it. She spoke English reasonably well (albeit with a weird accent) but of what use is Greek in Russia? I mean to say, of what use is Shakespeare in the heart of Japan? I fell off my high chair laughing when she made wild gestures at that smiling old man asking for directions to the correct railway platform and was politely guided to the ladies room of the station instead!
Now she stood there in the sun, clutching her priceless treasures and checked for the nth time if any Japanese currency was still left among the wad of dollars. I told myself, let’s be imaginative, what the heck! So I pushed this tall American fellow who was having a trying time searching for the ideal cell phone and made him skip two turns just so that he comes face to face with the lady. If you had seen her reaction, you may have been prompted to think of a lone traveller in a desert who had his first view of the oasis. She was so overjoyed to see the American, for a moment I thought she was going to hug him. Here at last was someone she thought who could understand English and would listen to her endless stream of woes and provide the right solution in a platter. My day was going better than I expected!
Obviously, the American could not help in any way beyond the English. He simply shook his head and confirmed that there was no money exchange open on Sunday and was about to attempt a quick exit. I was thinking of my next trick and must have lost my grip on the drama, for just as he was about to walk past her, he unexpectedly added as an afterthought that he was staying at Hotel Rhiga and with an abrupt change of intent, he plunged into being the Good Samaritan and help a lady in distress. He grabbed the map from her hand, drew elaborate directions and labelled them in ENGLISH and as if that was not enough to ruin my fun, he even gave her a few coins as bus fare that would ensure that she reaches the destination. He promised that the hotel had a counter where they would exchange her dollars.
Now, I could have intervened if I wanted to but the look on her face spoiled all chances of that. She was bursting with a new tide of hope. My purple glasses told me she was doing quick calculations in her mind and had already converted the dollars into yen. I knew she had her eye on that expensive burgundy and gold silk kimono. She was out to capture the spirit of Japan in 3 days and 300 dollars!
In spite of some excitement I had with her shoes which made her stumble a couple of times and drop her floral umbrellas, she did finally make it to Hotel Rhiga.
Poor girl! I actually didn’t need the purple glasses to know that her heart was about to be broken. The hotel only offered money exchange services to resident guests. Her hopes nosedived and she herself dived for the nearest couch in the hotel lobby. And there, in the full view of all the people lounging around, she unabashedly burst into tears. My, oh my, enough of my pranks! I had to help this woman somehow before she made a total fool of herself, if she hadn’t already.
Now, did I tell you that I am often clumsy when I try to act in a hurry? I did send someone immediately to her rescue but it turns out that I sent the wrong guy. This idiot tried to actually put an arm around her supposedly to console her. If she was distressed before, now she was infuriated. And before I had a chance to pull a few strings, she had hurled the floral umbrella right on his shoulders and was about to follow it with the rest of the contents of her shopping bag. Quick! I needed to act! Plump, old ladies are always handy. I found exactly one such lady at the gift shop and shoved her right in the way. Well, it at least saved the day for the doll and the terracotta handicrafts and gave a chance for the idiot to run for his life.
What followed next was not exactly part of my master plan. The lady I had chosen actually spoke some broken English and she was a resident of the hotel. In a fit of tears our lady in distress narrated how she did not even have the means to return to the port where the ship was waiting for her. As if in cue for competition, the plump old lady soon overtook the younger one and wept whole heartedly with unnecessary intensity and vigour. The absurd scene invited quite a few bemused spectators and my purple glasses told me that soon things will go out of hand. So I sighed, I had to use my precious resource which I always save for precisely such emergencies.
Well, the dust of common sense that I sprinkled had the desired effect. Both the ladies stopped howling. The young lady handed over her precious dollars to the obliging grandma who in turn exchanged the same at the hotel money exchange thus exercising her privilege of being a resident guest. Unfortunately that augured the end of my Sunday fun. It is always a great entertainment when folks remain stupid.
One would have thought that after the profuse display of gratitude our young lady would have the common sense to go back to her ship and stay put there till the vessel left the port. But no, she actually skipped and whirled out of the rotating doors, her heart set to capture the flavour of Japan! And tell you what; she even managed to add that burgundy and gold silk kimono in her shopping bag among a whole lot of equally useless things till she barely had enough money to cover her return fare!
And did I tell you it was a Sunday and no-one understood Shakespeare in Japan?
(Dear readers, this was a pathetic attempt to make you laugh. I have had enough of folks telling me how my posts brought tears to their eyes. This time it is for a couple of friends going through challenging times who I know can do with a good laugh. And btw, you have guessed right. The ridiculously dressed young lady was me 11 years back on my maiden voyage after marriage with my Captain hubby and the Japanese doll and Haniwa handicrafts still grace my wall unit. I had the great brainwave of gifting the useful floral umbrella to my mom-in-law. Any guesses who the narrator is?)